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144 A SEARCH IN SECRET EGYPT
and amphitheatres for physics and chemistry provided, and up-to-date methods of teaching were now in practice. Yet, these reforms had been carefully introduced—so carefbUy that the ancient atmosphere was still retained, and both old and new educational methods dwelt side by side.
Once inside the walls, which enclose an array of colonnades and cloisters, of galleries and minarets, I saw black-bearded figures who sat and pored over their Arabic books. The echoes of the students* voices as they chanted their lessons, slightly swaying to and fro in rhythm with their sing-song, reached my ears. They squatted upon mats in small groups under the shade of cloistered roofs, while in their centre sat the teacher.
That is the traditional method of teaching, fittingly retained in the ancient buildings. But, in the great modern extensions elsewhere, I had already found that His Eminence had caused his religious university to take on a new lease of life by adapting it to present-day conditions. In this he had the enthusiastic support of the younger generation of Muslims, but he had to battle for a time against crusted theologians who did not realize that El Azhar must fit itself anew to work in a changing world. The battle was long drawn out but his victory complete. Just as sunlight is forcing its way into the slummy narrow alleys of old Cairo, bit by bit, just as sanitation is winning its old battle with ancient quarters, and fresh air is diminishing the strength of century-old odours, so modern thought is forcibly making its impression on the old Oriental. The rising generation is spurring ahead on the journey towards that union of old-new ideas which is inevitable.
These students come from every corner of the Muslim world, from Persia to Zanzibar, drawn like steel filings to the magnet of El Azhar's authoritative culture. They are dressed in red tarbush and white turban and every colour of robe, I expected to see some Chinese students among the host and I found them, but I was surprised to discover young Japanese too.
Sheikh el Maraghi was dressed in a long black and white striped silk shirt, over which he wore a longer robe, with ample sleeves, made of black silk. A white girdle was wound around his waist. He wore a pair of soft yellow morocco sjioes which turned up at the toes. The whole effect of his dress was one of simple effectiveness.
The grave quietude of his countenance pleased me. I began by enquiring as to the central message of Islam.